Anatomy of a Disappearance

Hisham Matar

First Sentence: There are times when my father’s absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest.

The title and the opening sentence alone are enough to give us a sense of what is going on in this novel. Nuri is the narrator and his father has disappeared, taken from his bed in the middle of the night. Even before this act however life has not been going perfectly for Nuri. After his mother dies, Nuri finds it hard to feel a connection with his father. This sense is only heightened when they meet Mona on holidays in the Magda Marina resort and Nuri is instantly infatuated. Nuri lays claim to her and insists he saw her first (even though he is only fourteen at the time and she is twenty-eight). Somewhat inevitably Mona ends up marrying Nuri’s father and this only increases Nuri’s animosity. He longs for his father to be out of the picture but before too long he is regretting this wish when things go drastically wrong. As Mona and Nuri’s world lies in tatters they begin to realise that they actually knew very little about the man who was closest to them. This is a brief, moving and sparse account of one man growing up in his father’s shadow. Based loosely on Matar’s own experience (his own father was a prominent figure in Libya, was anti-Gaddafi, and disappeared a number of years ago. His whereabouts are still unknown…), this is a very moving novel which really gets under your skin. Short, poetic and powerful, with a pinch of drama, it really draws you in and keeps you reading until the end.

* * *

Last Sentence: I returned it to its place.

Last Sentence explained: He returns his father’s raincoat to its hook, in anticipation of him coming home one day. This image of clothes and their association with their owners is a recurring one throughout the book. Right from the beginning when we meet Mona in her yellow bathing suit, clothes are always being described in relation to the way they cling to their wearers and almost become an embodiment of the person. Make of that what you will. By the end of the book Nuri knows even less about his father then he did before he disappeared. They have since learned that he was living a whole other life with Beatrice Benameur, the woman he was in bed with on the night he was taken. Beatrice then goes on to explain how the only reason he married Mona was because he thought it would be good for Nuri. He knew how much Nuri liked her. This is ironic considering Nuri only ever wanted Mona as a lover, and did end up sleeping with her once after his father’s disappearance. There is a lot going on in this book; self-identity, father-son relationships, romantic love, obsession, and the obvious political overtones, but overall even though I enjoyed reading it, I don’t think I’ll be revisiting Matar’s world any time soon. Make of that what you will.

Random quotes I liked:

“He would say a cloud passing over a full moon would wake me.”  Nuri’s father on Beatrice.

“I wonder how different my story would have been were Mona’s hands unbeautiful, her fingertips coarse.”  Nuri on Mona.

“Her face seemed to collapse.” Mona on hearing Nuri’s father and Beatrice were in love.


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